Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have understandably been hungry for any solutions that might steer us back towards normalcy. Beyond what we’ve now clearly established as a necessary baseline approach for getting the situation under control – vaccines, masks, social distancing, and testing. Not to mention, there has also been great interest in what can generously be termed more “alternative” courses of treatment.
Ranging from the fully unfounded to the simply unproven, the scale and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired everyone from the entirely unqualified to academic experts of all shapes and stripes to take a stab at the issue. As a result, it’s perhaps no surprise that shortly after global lockdowns commenced in March 2020, people were already wondering if there might be a positive role for cannabis to play in the matter.
Unfortunately, when many of these studies were shared on social media, they were rebranded as misleading clickbait. To be very clear: smoking a joint of Cannabis sativa will not help you to avoid catching COVID-19 or lessening the severity of an existing infection. Though such a simple answer would make for a conveniently miraculous solution, the truth is that what we’ve seen so far are some specific (but nonetheless promising) results in studies on mice.
New Study Shows Promise in CBD Treatment for COVID-19
In December, researchers at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University found that “pure [cannabidiol] CBD can help the lungs recover from ARDS and restore healthy oxygen levels.” Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) is a common condition in COVID-19 patients, as well as those with lung infections and other types of respiratory diseases.
A later study pinpointed the science further, finding that CBD appears to reduce ARDS-associated lung damage by increasing levels of the anti-inflammatory molecule apelin. Other studies undertaken since the pandemic began have had similarly convincing results, finding that CBD may assist in improving lung function and inflammation in mice with acute lung injuries as well CBD’s promise in helping to reduce airway inflammation in mice with allergic asthma.
But when it comes to studies involving actual human beings and the actual COVID-19 virus (as opposed to symptoms caused by the disease), we’ve had relatively little to go on. That’s now changed thanks to researchers at the University of Chicago, who released a promising new study last month offering legitimacy to the idea that CBD may be able to lessen the severity of COVID-19 infections and even help to prevent the spread of the virus itself.
As detailed in their published findings in the journal Scientific Advances, the study involved researchers treating human lung cells with high doses of pharmaceutical-grade CBD before infecting the cells with COVID-19. Subsequently, they found that CBD “potently inhibited viral replication under non-toxic conditions.” In a fascinating twist, they saw no similar results from other cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The key to this discovery, one of the study’s authors told Forbes, is that CBD appears to activate “a cellular stress response” – a series of proteins known as interferons – which are normally triggered in the presence of “viruses or other pathogens.” These interferons, induced by CBD, are the actual antivirals that then fight the virus. Though the researchers were unable to test their findings on living human beings (just cells), they did manage to conduct trials with, you guessed it, mice.
In this instance, female mice were given two doses of CBD titrated to either 20mg or 80mg per kilogram of body weight. Those given the higher dosage, researchers report, saw notable “decreases of viral loads in the lungs and the nose.”
Though the cost and availability of such a large dose of medical-grade CBD may mean such a treatment option is limited only to the fortunately located and fabulously wealthy, the promise contained in the underlying science cannot be ignored.
In welcome contrast to a deluge of bogus articles conflating multiple studies to draw inaccurate conclusions, the findings of the University of Chicago researchers offer clear, comprehendible evidence that CBD may ultimately have a valuable role to play in ending the COVID-19 pandemic after all. As always, more research – hopefully with humans – awaits.